TEXT: Ars Publica – Curatorial Report, March 2007, By Ana Buigues

This text is republished in collaboration with Rhizome.org. It was released on Rhizome Digest, 4/04/07, and appears here as it was originally posted.

What follows is the curator‚s report on the development of the Ars Publica project http://www.arspublica.noemata.net/

based on the theoretical context for the ¨raison d´être¨ of this net.art project.

The inception of the Ars Publica project started in the second half of 2005, when we, the Ars Publica team, in view of the lack of a painstaking study about the art market from the artists´ point of view, felt the need to fill this void through the realization of a study that would include art theory and case studies in a project that would be a combination between an academic article and an art project. After NKR (Norsk KulturrÃ¥d – Arts Council Norway) approved our application and granted us financial support in January 2006, via the Kunst og ny teknologi fond (Art and Technology Fund), we were able to conduct most part of the research. Bjørn Magnhildøen as net.artist and programmer established the ¨physical¨[1] point of departure – the Ars Publica web site, which includes the net art sale exhibition, the library and the museum. Thanks to Magnhildøen´s technical implementation of the dynamics of electronic commerce the Ars Publica web site is completely prepared for the interaction with the public and customers.

Until now we have focused on the general public front, having collected records about the responses obtained from the public who accessed Ars Publica from the Internet, as well as from a few off line performances, as Magnhildøen explains in his report of the project:


In the next months we will concentrate on the marketing of our project on the elitist front: established art and culture institutions. We are presently working on the design of CDs and DVDs to be distributed to world wide libraries, museums, and universities. The contents of the CDs and DVDs will consist of a version of the Ars Publica project accompanied by a critical essay written by the curator, Ana Buigues, contextualizing this art project. The essay is still under development and what follows are excerpts from some of its sections. The entire text will be published in the Ars Publica web site as soon as it is completed.

Ars Publica : The Art Market and Corporate Parody


The tradition of corporate parody in conceptual art and literature, includes, among others, the works of General Idea, Yves Klein, and Robert Morris with pieces about monetary value of art, or Hans Haacke’s interventions in social economy, like the series of Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, 1971 — as well as his collaboration with Bourdieu, in the dialogue Libre-échange, 1994.

Ars Publica basically is a commentary on the paradox that while art constitutes another type of production to be commercialized, the financial situation in which most artists encounter themselves, is due to a sub-paradox that responds on the one hand to the irrelevant socio-economic value generally associated with art; and on the other hand with the elitist channels of art commercialization. Artworks have come to be considered consumer goods and, as such, depend on the laws of offer and demand, functioning within free-market structures based on price competition. However, perhaps these principles cannot always be applied to the world of culture and art, and instead of a growing ‘cultural industry’ closely linked to the ‘art market,’ what artists might rather need is certain protection from the State, since there are some activities which cannot be measured solely by the economic benefit they generate. Neither can the value of a specific artist be determined solely by the prices previously paid for her/his works, or by the promotion art dealers and art critics attach to a certain type of art or artist (based on both their economic self interest and personal preferences, which, in turn, may also be linked to their connections to the art market).

The project Ars Publica is a mélange of interventions within social networks: what we know as situationism, urban art/action, political protest, performance, and net.art, with an emphasis on the economies of [artistic] loss and [economic] profit. The foundations of Situationism, and Fluxus will present the existing analogies among the Internet networks, urban zones, and social structures that mediate our perception of the world, and how they can be challenged through certain actions and interventions. The Baudrillardian concepts of simulacrum and spectacle, are also included here to deal with the distorted, and accommodated messages transmitted by the media, and in this case through the Internet, and how it has fulfilled the needs for the consumers of a society of spectacle and entertainment. As it is known, the Situationist International (SI), formed in 1957 and leaded by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s were a group of artists and political theorists, with a Marxist and anarchist ideology, who rebelled against bourgeois societly values, in line with the traditions of Dada, Surrealism, CoBrA, and Fluxus. They were strongly opposed to a growing consummerist society and their artistic statements commented on concepts of art production and trade. Some of their actions included attacks to established art circles and academies.[2]

Ars Publica : Art + Technology = Public Domain


In 1968 Barthes theorized the elimination of the author as the ultimate creator. An effect of this theorizing has been to assign a new, protagonist role to the spectator, that depends on the ways that a given spectator interprets and conceptualizes a given artwork. Walter Benjamin‚s famous elaboration of the aura surrounding the sacred object and the artwork took as a positive sign its disintegration. [3] Michel Foucault also took up these conceptions in a particular way that interests us here, since he emphasized the operations of power in society. Foucault conceives of the author and artist-genius as a Romantic myth imbued with patriarchy and elitism. [4] In his revision of history, he analyses the discourses of power, knowledge, and truth and their legitimation through social institutions, arguing that individuals, rather than institutions, can and do transmit certain power and knowledge to different strata of society. He also suggests that what we call an “author” varies from period to period according to the social function assigned to the author.

Ars Publica : net art


We must call to mind that while the media has contributed to the spread of cultural stereotypes, standards of acculturation, consumerist bombarding, and power centralization, Internet activity continues this legacy on the one hand (when the Net acts as a mass media tool) and tries to break from it on the other hand (when activist networks enter the game). The use of the Internet for political contestation is what is known as „hacktivism,‰ in which a hacker‚s rebellious mentality and activist commitment meet. Again, „hackers‰ without computers existed before, since radical artists have been commenting on social injustice and art institutions firstly subtly and later more openly, and made use of either mainstream or underground transmitters for many years. The Internet contribution to this aspect is higher bandwidth, a complimentary effect to off line activism, omni directionality and participation. Secondly, there is the concept of simulacra and e-commerce, advertisement and media, that also bears some attention, making the critique to capitalism and consumer art culture more easily ‘believable’. The Internet offers a whole new scope and scale to such strategies, since it constitutes the virtual reality version of social and economic reality

[1] The word _physical_ is here in quotation marks due to the virtual nature of a web site, although nowadays the widespread use of the Internet has almost turned the virtual spaces into physical ones.

[2] The Situationist International (SI) was formed in 1957 as the result of the merging of the Lettrist International leaded by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB). The situationists envisioned a somehow ‘ideal city’ where its inhabitants would have a more playful, meaningful and just life. They created sketches of their envisioned city which reminds one of the Utopian Socialists such as Charles Fourier, Etienne-Louis Boullee, etc. Psychogeography was used to describe the study of the urban environment‚s effects on the psyche. The situationists produced psychogeographical reports based on the results of their dérives (drifting). They saw themselves as abolishing the notion of art as a separate, specialized activity and transforming it so was part of fabric of everyday life.

Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, “Art and Modern Life,” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1992) 693-700.

Further reference to other aspects of the situationists, such as de detournement and ‘spectacle’ are provided further ahead in this chapter.

[3] German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-40), working within the context of the Marxist Frankfurt School envisioned to a certain degree some of our postmodern cultural and artistic conditions. He provided a model for how the artist might function politically through changing the forms of artistic production. In „The Author as Producer,‰1934, he argued that the uniqueness of the aura of a work of art, would be eliminated and that this would result in a more democratic consumption of imagery, since until then art appreciation and ownership were reserved for an elitist public, where art would shift from that negative theology dependant on the aura, fetish, and ritual, to be based on politics. Walter Benjamin, „The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,‰ See Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, „Freedom, Responsibility and Power,‰ in Art in Theory, 1900-1990, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1992), 512-519, „The Author as Producer,‰ Harrison and Wood, Ibid, 483-488.

[4] Keith. Moxey, The Practice of Theory. Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics, and Art History. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 56

Ana Buigues – Curator of Ars Publica